Best of WWE Extreme Rules: A Playlist Before This Year’s “Horror Show”

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

“It’s the one night of the year where WWE goes extreme!!!!”

What does that mean? Eh, nothing really. It’s a line they used to tack on to this Extreme Rules pay per view. In reality, it’s a show where they throw in some gimmick matches for the sake of the title. Extreme Rules is the descendant of ECW One Night Stand. So if they really wanted to make this show special, they’d stick it in a smaller venue like the Hammerstein Ballroom (shown above) to make it look like an old ECW show. Or maybe even someplace like Full Sail University, and up the ticket price accordingly to compensate for the smaller capacity.

Of course, you can’t do that now. Damn Coronavirus.

But where there is creativity and performance, there is inevitably some greatness to be found. As we build to this year’s Extreme Rules: The Horror Show show on July 19, here’s a playlist representing the best of this event over the last 11 years. Despite being WWE’s sanitized version of “extreme,” you might be surprised at the quality of what you find…

NO HOLDS BARRED MATCH:
Rey Mysterio vs. Chris Jericho
June 7, 2009
New Orleans, LA

It was on this night that Jericho won his ninth and (thus far) final Intercontinental Championship. That’s a record that stands to this day, and may in fact stand as long as the title exists.

But perhaps more importantly, this is one of the better IC Title matches of the so-called “PG Era.” We had a compelling yet simple story coming in about Jericho wanting to unmask Rey Mysterio Jr. Jim Ross and Todd Grisham were on commentary for this one, and the former did an excellent job playing up the importance of the mask to Rey. Not to mention its cultural significance. So in the end, when Jericho snatches Rey’s mask off during a 619 attempt and then rolls him up for the pin, it actually means something.

These two managed to cut a hell of a pace too. At certain points, you’d think they were still part of WCW’s renowned Cruiserweight Division. Moments before the finish, we get something we’d never see today: A chairshot to the head. Mind you, Rey “works” the shot to Jericho’s head fairly well. But a shot to the head is a shot to the head.

If this match proves anything, it’s that Jericho was and still is one of the true artists in the world of pro wrestling. Whoever elevates whomever he works with. Even if that person is already a legend like Ricky Steamboat, Shawn Michaels, or in this case, Rey Mysterio Jr.

LADDER MATCH:
Edge vs. Jeff Hardy
June 7, 2009
New Orleans, LA

I probably shouldn’t have, but I felt sorry for Edge, Jeff, and all those TLC guys for a long time.

Yes, I know those ladder matches and TLC Matches made stars out of the Hardys, the Dudleys, and Edge & Christian. But those matches would also follow all those guys around for the rest of their careers. They became synonymous with the Ladder Match to the point that so many of their big bouts had to be Ladder Matches. So when they started this program with one another, it was inevitable there’d be a Ladder Match at some point.

And this is how jaded we’d all become at that point: This match isn’t even that exciting. Yes, there are some brutal bumps. Edge takes a nasty bump between the rungs of a ladder. Later, he tries to recreate the famous mid-air spear spot from Wrestlemania. The results are mixed at best. The match is highlighted by that last visual of Edge being trapped between the ladder rungs, “crucified” as Todd Grisham puts it, as Hardy climbs up and takes the title.

This match earns its spot here because of the effort put forth by its participants. Hardly the most thrilling Ladder Match you’ll ever see. But you’ve got to take your hat off for what both these guys were willing to do to their bodies.

LADDER MATCH FOR VACANT WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Alberto Del Rio vs. Christian
May 1, 2011
Tampa, FL

I don’t make a habit of going back and watching a lot of Alberto Del Rio matches. But in hindsight, he had a pretty good shtick with his personal ring announcer, the limo, the music, the big smile. If he weren’t such a sleaze bag in real life, I’d be inclined to say I miss him.

But of course, this match isn’t really about Del Rio. It’s all about Christian finally winning the big one. Would he lose it two days later at a Smackdown taping? Yes. But this is still a great moment that’s all the more relevant given how they just used him in the Edge/Randy Orton storyline.

CHICAGO STREET FIGHT:
CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho
April 29, 2012
Chicago, IL

We didn’t need the benefit of hindsight to see these two got overshadowed by the Rock and John Cena at Wrestlemania. We knew going in that it would happen. In the end, they’d once again be overshadowed at Extreme Rules by Cena and Brock Lesnar. But that doesn’t take away from the quality of the work they did. And this whole program, with a heel Chris Jericho getting personal with CM Punk about his father’s alcohol issues, was quality.

The fact that they were in Chicago did nothing but help them. This was less than a year after the famous Punk/Cena match at Money in the Bank. This crowd was every bit as pro-Punk as that one was. All these years later, I’d forgotten that Punk’s family was in the front row too. So when Jericho douses Punk in beer and beats the hell out of him with a kendo stick, it resonates that much more. The same can be said for when Punk finally pulls it out and retains the WWE Championship.

EXTREME RULES MATCH:
Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena
April 29, 2012
Chicago, IL

Mere moments into this match, Lesnar had Cena’s blood on him.

This match wasn’t necessarily as exciting as I remembered it. But as Brock Lesnar’s first match in eight years, it was still bigger and more important than almost anything that happened at Wrestlemania the previous month. This match was “big fight feel” defined.

In hindsight, this was structured not unlike the classic Cena and Lesnar would have at Summerslam two years later. Which is to say it was all about Cena being brutalized  by this WWE Champion turned MMA fighter, and the question of whether he could survive. Particularly under the Extreme Rules stipulation.

This match may also have one of the most hotly debated finishes in company history. Certainly in the last decade. Common sense would indicate that Brock would prevail here. Thus, they’d tell the story of Cena suffering yet another devastating loss just a month after losing to the Rock, and setting Brock up as a near invincible and monster.

Of course, they didn’t do that. They had Cena win after punching Lesnar with his old Thuganomics lock and chain, followed by an A.A. on to the steel ring steps. They didn’t even do a contested finish, i.e. “You can’t pin somebody on the steps!” It was just, “Cena wins. LOL.”

Still, it’s definitely a match worth looking back on. Arguably the best WWE match of 2012 overall.

EXTREME RULES MATCH:
Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles
May 22, 2016
Newark, New Jersey

I’m not sure how politically correct this is to say, but AJ Styles became a made man in WWE by working with Roman Reigns.

Yes, he came in and worked with Chris Jericho. Yes, he’d go on to have some amazing matches with John Cena. But by putting Reigns over in back-to-back title matches at Payback and Extreme Rules in two great matches, Styles proved that not only was he an all-time great performer, but one that could succeed within the WWE system. These matches proved he was here to stay.

You can tell both these guys are really going for it here. Reigns had just won the WWE Championship from Triple H at Wrestlemania, and had a lot to prove to his critics. Meanwhile, I suspect Styles knew what a big opportunity this was for him, and set out to over-deliver. He succeeded, taking some downright scary bumps in the process. These included a very high backdrop off one announce table through another. Styles actually over-rotated, taking what looked like a painful landing on his butt. That’s how you crack your tailbone, right there.

In the end, what they turned in here was very much a WWE style brawl, complete with a fight through the crowd and outside antics from the Usos and Gallows & Anderson. In the end, Reigns countered a Phenomenal Forearm into a spear for the victory.

30-MINUTE IRON MAN MATCH:
Dolph Ziggler vs. Seth Rollins
July 15, 2018
Pittsburgh, PA

This match was better than the Pittsburgh crowd gave it credit for. They spent a good portion of this match counting along with the clock, Royal Rumble Match style. Meanwhile, Rollins and Ziggler were putting on a clinic in there.

They gave us a little bit of everything in this one. We had the babyface Rollins gain an early lead. We had Ziggler’s heavy Drew McIntyre come in to interfere. Then we had the heel Ziggler even it out. Then we had the heel go up, forcing the babyface to fight from underneath. We go into sudden death, a la Wrestlemania XII. Then it was McIntyre once again playing a role to give Ziggler the win. So McIntyre gets over as a force to be reckoned with, and Rollins and Ziggler get over as two workhorses, with Ziggler getting the added rub of main-eventing his first pay per view.

Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that this was the first time the Intercontinental Title was defended in the main event of a pay per view since Bret and Bulldog at Summerslam in ’92. So we’re not only elevating our two wrestlers, but we’re once again elevating the Intercontinental Title.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Enzo Amore’s Release, Plus Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It was only a matter of time before the #MeToo movement touched pro wrestling. I can’t say I expected Enzo Amore to be the one effected. But here we are.

The real-life Eric Arndt was suspended and subsequently released by WWE this week after rape allegations against him emerged via Twitter. Supposedly Enzo was fired not because he was accused, but because he failed to alert WWE that he was being investigated.

Either way, it’s a rotten situation. If he did it, then he deserves everything that’s coming to him. If he didn’t, and simply failed to be transparent with WWE about it, then this whole thing was needless. Arndt certainly isn’t the best in the ring. But he’s still incredibly talented, and can go far. If he is innocent, then hopefully he’ll be back. Perhaps a little wiser for the experience.

Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown:

Vince McMahon is honored by his children, Shane and Stephanie. Stone Cold Steve Austin interrupts, hitting the Stone Cold Stunner on Shane twice, and once on the chairman himself. This Raw 25 show as a disappointment for a variety of reasons. But we can’t say they didn’t start strong. At 72, Vince is every bit the showman he’s always been. And of course, it doesn’t get any hotter than Steve Austin.

Remember the days when Austin could hit the Stunner on Stephanie? Ahhh, good times…

Asuka, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James def. Nia Jax, Alicia Fox, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. Asuka throws her teammates over the top rope afterward, in a preview of the Women’s Royal Rumble Match. Asuka is obviously a heavy favorite in the Women’s Royal Rumble Match this Sunday. But she’s also a little obvious. Who’s the dark horse candidate? Nia Jax? Becky Lynch, maybe?

The Undertaker returns to the Manhattan Center, says it’s time for those who’ve fallen to “rest in peace.” Lots of fans holding up smartphones during the Undertaker’s entrance. I’ll never understand that. Be in the moment, folks. Put your damn phones away.

Filming at both the Barclays Center and the Manhattan Center was a complete waste. I feel for the fans at the Manhattan Center, who obviously felt cheated with what relatively little they got. Watching current stars on that throwback set is such a great visual. Why not just do the Manhattan Center? Just jack up the ticket prices. The die-hards will pay.

There was a ton of speculation about an angle being shot for Undertaker vs. John Cena at Wrestlemania. I’m not necessarily disappointed we didn’t get that. But we didn’t get much of anything from ‘Taker. He said some drawn out stuff about his old enemies, and then he left. Again, seeing him back in the Manhattan Center was cool. But in the end, this was a big disappointment.

The Miz def. Roman Reigns to win the Intercontinental Championship. Loved the finish to this one, with the exposed turnbuckle pad being a surprise. Miz cheats to win, and gets his belt back in a match that the crowd was pretty into. Take note future champions: For the Miz, that IC Title is every bit as important as the WWE Title. That’s how you lend prestige to a championship.

Christian hosts Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan on the Peep Show. Jason Jordan’s got heat. Bar babyface turn? Sheamus and Cesaro interrupt. A brawl ensues. and Rollins accidentally takes out Jordan. A babyface turn for Sheamus and Cesaro is probably inevitable. They’ve got that cool factor going for them. Especially when they’re up against someone like Jason Jordan, who’s definitely coming into his own as a heel. He’s gettin’ there. Slowly but surely…

Bray Wyatt def. Woken Matt Hardy. Another opportunity they missed with the Manhattan Center presentation? Howard Finkel. That had him announce Undertaker’s entrance, but they switched to Greg Hamilton for the remainder of the night. The never even showed Finkel on camera. Why? What’s their aversion to letting this guy be on TV?

On the plus side, it’s always great to hear Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler on headset. Lawler alluded to us one day finding out who/what Sister Abigail is. I’d like to think that means the whole Bray in drag thing is being forgotten. More likely, they’re not as familiar with the recent product.

Chris Jericho appears in a backstage segment with Elias. Again, a total waste not having Jericho appear in front of the live crowd. Though at least for this one they have an excuse, what with the whole New Japan thing. He was even wearing his “Alpha Club” t-shirt. Did they just miss that?

Elias is interrupted by John Cena. A fight breaks out. Elias low blows Cena, and smashes him in the back with a guitar. Very cool to see Jimmy Fallon in the front row. Like him or not, he’s the host of The Tonight Show. That means something.

One thing I love about Cena? His love for spontaneity. He’ll go with the crowd. Even if he’s just pointing out the stupid beach balls. That lends an energy to things that’s been sorely lacking for a long time.

Mark Henry finds out the Godfather is “grown up,” and now a married man. Of course the Godfather can’t have hoes anymore. That was an edgy gimmick back in the ’90s. I’m almost surprised they even let him be on TV nowadays.

The Dudley Boyz interrupt a tag team match. Heath Slater takes the 3D through a table. Why exactly couldn’t we get that Bubba Ray heel run last year? Hell, why couldn’t the Dudleys even get a token tag team title run? This seems to be a recurring theme, but what a waste…

Shawn Michaels, Triple H, the New Age Outlaws, X-Pac, and Scott Hall celebrate Raw’s 25th anniversary with the Balor Club. Gallows and Anderson defeat the Revival. The legends beat up Dash and Dawson. It tugged at my heartstrings to hear Hunter name-drop Chyna. It’s such a damn shame she never got to come back and take a bow. She absolutely deserved it.

Supposedly, this Revival stuff was supposed to have been done by Enzo. Dash and Dawson did just fine, of course. And somehow it wasn’t as bad as what the Ascension got from JBL and the gang a few years back.

The “Too Sweet” bit with the Balor Club felt like an unofficial passing of the torch moment. BNow if only Balor hadn’t lost to Seth Rollins last week.

A confrontation between Brock Lesnar, Kane, and Braun Strowman ends with Strowman Powerslamming Lesnar through an announce table. They did this table spot at Summerslam, right? Still a good spot. Now if only Strowman were winning the title this Sunday.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn open Smackdown. AJ Styles agrees to face them in singles matches later in the show. They really want us to get behind the “Kami” nickname for Owens and Zayn. Coming from AJ, it almost feels like a dad joke. Good thing he’s the best in the damn world…

Chad Gable def. Jey Uso. Gable’s roll-through German Suplex somehow never gets old.  He’s so smooth in there. But at 5’8, his height could work against him in terms of a singles push. Granted, guys like Eddie Guerrero have been Heavyweight Champions at around that height. So it’s not unheard of.

Naomi def. Liv Morgan. The women’s locker room empties in anticipation of the Women’s Royal Rumble Match. Charlotte Flair wishes them good luck, “especially to the winner.” Saw someone on Twitter say that Liv Morgan looks like a Bratz doll. I’m not even sure what that means. But somehow I know it’s true.

We haven’t heard anything official about past stars coming in for the Women’s Rumble Match, which seems odd. I would imagine everyone they trotted out for that little hello on Raw is a candidate. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Nikki Bella show up. I’m sure Jacqueline would be happy to get in there. Trish Stratus seems like a must. I’ve also heard Molly Holly’s name mentioned. You’d think at least a few names would have been announced. Especially with them in attendance like that.

Randy Orton interrupts a match between Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin. Hits the RKO on both. Baron Corbin’s entrance music may be the best thing he’s got going for him right now. True story.

Hell of an entrance by Orton. He friggin’ flew into frame with that first RKO. His wife went on a little Instagram rant about how he was left off Raw 25. At least he didn’t miss much…

Bobby Roode, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods def. Jinder Mahal, Rusev, and Aiden English. That “Keap of Faith” Kofi does over the top with his back turned is damn crazy. Talk about a trust fall…

AJ Styles def. Kevin Owens quickly after Owens seemingly injures his knee. After a pre-match beatdown, Sami Zayn pins the WWE Champion. The best part of all this? Zayn finally won a match with the Blue Thunder Bomb. It’s the best move he’s got, but he’s always used it as a set-up move.

The dead giveaway that Owens wasn’t really hurt? They kept showing him on camera during the match. Typically if somebody gets hurt, they don’t do that if they can help it.

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WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Yeah, I’m still stealing this Barbara Walters bit. What can I say? I like it. I’ve been able to do it every year (with one exception) since 2012.

This list is subjective, as always. These are 10 people who, for reasons both good and bad, stood out to me over the course of 2017. We’ve got unlikely champions, call-ups from NXT whose journeys have been more tumultuous than anticipated, a veteran who’ll be on the Wrestle Kingdom 12 card, and many more.

So let’s get down to business…

1. Jinder Mahal

Jinder was one of WWE’s biggest gambles this year. The company made him their poster child for their attempts to break into the Indian market. In the process, Mahal went from glorified enhancement talent to WWE Champion in a matter of weeks. With help from the Singh Brothers (the former Bollywood Boyz), Mahal scored three consecutive pay per view victories over Randy Orton. He went on to retain over Shinsuke Nakamura at Summerslam and Hell in a Cell.

Though he held the title for most of the year, Mahal became a controversial figure for a variety of reasons. The question of whether he deserves this sudden shove into the limelight has always been there, with his matches and promos being highly critiqued. Also, the nature of his physique has been in question for quite some time. Many have suggested his increased musculature has come from steroids, or other performance enhancing drugs. The racial overtones used in his program with Nakamura did him no favors either. He actually got “That’s too far!” chants during a promo in October when he said of the Japanese star: “You always rook the same.”

Signs pointed to Mahal being the champion and the focal point of WWE’s two December shows in India. But by the time they got there, not only had the belt been taken from Jinder, but one of the shows had been cancelled. The “Maharaja” was still in a high profile match with Triple H. But he ended up eating the pin. He’d also been pulled from a headline match against Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series.

While success inevitably breeds envy and criticism, it’s safe to say the Jinder Mahal experiment hasn’t worked out the way anyone hoped. He may have an uphill battle ahead of him if he wants to stay near the top of the card.

2. Asuka

The “Empress of Tomorrow” made her long-awaited debut on the main roster in October. While she’s maintained her undefeated streak, Asuka has run into a familiar problem. Like many of her peers, she’s had trouble translating her NXT success to the main roster.

To WWE’s credit, they brought Asuka in with a ton of hype. But her match with Emma at No Mercy left fans underwhelmed. She scored a hard-fought victory, but she wasn’t presented as the dominant destroyer they’d come to know. They quickly switched gears, placing her in enhancement matches akin to those done for Braun Strowman and Nia Jax early in their Raw tenures. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, and for Asuka it had come and gone.

Thankfully, they seem to know what they have in her. She was the sole victor in the women’s match at Survivor Series, has started to score decisive wins over lower card wrestlers like Alicia Fox and Dana Brooke, and has publicly declared her intent to come after the Raw Women’s Championship. Asuka would be a perfect pick to win the recently announced Women’s Royal Rumble Match.

Asuka got off to a rocky start. But she seems to be picking up speed. I’d certainly hate to see her end up like a certain other woman on the Raw roster…

3. Bayley

Bayley’s 2017 was…okay. Just okay. She started out fairly strong, defeating Charlotte Flair on Raw to win her first Raw Women’s Title, and then breaking Flair’s pay per view undefeated streak shortly thereafter. She would go on to retain the title in a multi-woman match at Wrestlemania. Things seemed to be going well for her.

But by mid-year she’d fallen off track. WWE writers seem unsure of how to write Bayley. To an extent that’s understandable. Her character is very unique. You don’t see very many relentlessly positive, squeaky clean underdogs in 2017. But when paired against the spunky brat Alexa Bliss, she became a wishy-washy wet noodle. Bayley needed to show fire against Alexa. We needed to see that she could get angry when she had to. We didn’t get that. Instead we got bad dialogue, capped off by an absolutely atrocious “This Is Your Life” segment that was meant to garner sympathy for her.

By the time summer game around, she was getting the opposite. There were noticeable boos for WWE’s resident hugger, even when she was sidelined with a separated shoulder. These days, Bayley essentially just another name on the roster. From a creative standpoint, that’s an absolute travesty. Bayley is a special kind of character, who at one point had a special connection with a variety of fans. If there’s one person in all of WWE who could use a little character rehabbing, it’s her.

4. Matt Hardy

When it came to Matt Hardy, we spent most of 2017 waiting.

But just a few weeks ago, an on-screen breakdown led to the emergence of “Woken” Matt Hardy. The difference between Woken Matt and Broken Matt? Semantics. He’s got the same gear, the same hair, the same accent. For all intents and purposes, Broken Matt Hardy has come to WWE.

We haven’t seen a lot of him yet. It’s mostly been pre-taped promos, going back and forth with Bray Wyatt. Die-hard wrestling fans were already sold on Broken Matt. But the more casual fans watching Raw are seeing him for the first time. So far so good. Crowds have been reacting fairly well, and Matt has even breathed a tiny bit of life back into Bray.

There’s no shortage of options as to what can be done with this alternate version of Matt Hardy. In Impact, Jeff got in on the action as Brother Nero. But Matt’s wife, father-in-law, and children also became on-screen characters. We saw outrageous stuff on location at the Hardy compound. We saw a friggin’ drone. If Matt has a decent amount of control here, which he reportedly does, he could be one of the best parts of Raw in 2017.

5. Enzo Amore

Enzo faced a lot of criticism in 2017, but wound up proving a lot of his haters wrong. He started the year doing his usual shtick with Big Cass. Now he’s got the Cruiserweight Title and has essentially been made the star of 205 Live.

He could very well have fallen off the map after Cass went heel on him in June. But he ended up cutting some of the most passionate, scathing promos we heard on WWE TV all year. When Cass went down with an injury, Enzo was quickly moved into the Cruiserweight Division and put with Neville. Smart marks cried foul when Enzo somehow pinned Neville for the Cruiserweight Title in September. But the double turn that followed, turning Enzo heel and Neville babyface, turned out to be amazing. Enzo’s mic work and undeniable star power are undeniable. He’s earned his spot.

Enzo reminds me a lot of an early incarnation of the Miz. He won’t win any prizes for his wrestling. But his character work is on a different level than almost everybody else. When he talks, you believe him. In WWE, that’s a golden ticket that can take you almost anywhere. Enzo can be a singles wrestler, a tag team wrestler, a manager, an announcer, or whatever they need him to be. If Enzo is as tenacious and hard-working as Miz, he’s going to be around a long time.

And as long as we’re talking about him…

6. The Miz

Mike Mizanin’s suitability for pro wrestling stardom has been questioned from the start. Mainly because of his background as a reality TV star. But his wrestling ability has also been heavily critiqued. Throw in his success, including headlining a Wrestlemania, and he’s been a polarizing figure amongst die-hards.

But 2017 seemed to be the year Miz finally won over his critics. The majority of them anyway. He’s no slouch in the ring. But it”s mostly been a matter of his mic work and the presentation of his character. The continued inclusion of his wife Maryse, the slick suits, the good to great promos week after week, the incorporation of Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel as his “Miztourage.” It’s all come together. Now, roughly seven years after he main-evented Wrestlemania, he once again feels like a main-eventer. In 2017 he continued to make the Intercontinental Title feel prestigious again. He defended it, and in some cases traded it with, the likes of Dean Ambrose, Jeff Hardy, and Roman Reigns. It’s likely he’ll challenge for it again when he returns. Then again, perhaps it’s time for a new frontier…

Perhaps 2018 is the year Miz once again becomes WWE Champion.

7. Sami Zayn

Under the WWE umbrella, Sami Zayn was always portrayed as a sentimental underdog. It’s a role he wears well. Case in point, his work with Braun Strowman early in the year. But the underdog role isn’t always a good one to have. Yes, cases like Rey Mysterio Jr and Daniel Bryan will always exist. But the thing about being an underdog is that you sometimes have to lose. A lot. And despite what some in the WWE creative department would have you believe, wins and losses matter. As such, Sami Zayn’s time on the main roster as “the Underdog From the Underground” hasn’t been the most eventful. Even Sami himself has dropped hints of his frustration at how things have gone.

Then Hell in a Cell came around, and Sami aligned with nemesis Kevin Owens against Smackdown General Manager Shane McMahon. In the days to come it became clear that the underdog had become the villain.

It was just what the doctor ordered. Zayn tapped into a side of his personality that’s delightfully annoying, and become an atypical sort of heel. He described it on a podcast as: “…like when you’re dating a girl and she kind of has these quirks, but they’re lovable. But once you break up, it’s like, ‘oh, God! She was so annoying! … the things you used to love about her, now, you hate about her because you don’t love her anymore.”

Lovable or not, it’s working. Zayn has been a lot of fun to watch these past few months, and at the Royal Rumble he’ll be wrestling for the WWE Title. Now that’s progress.

8. Shinsuke Nakamura

Hopes were high this past spring when Shinsuke Nakamura was called up to Smackdown.    Performers like him don’t come by every day, and having him be on American television for the first time (not counting NXT) was a big deal. But WWE isn’t exactly known for giving their performers the best material to work with, even less for letting the performers be themselves. So the question of how he’d fare loomed ominously.

Coming from someone who hasn’t seem much of his work in Japan, Nakamura’s time on the main roster has been underwhelming. Almost a year later, it still feels like we hardly know the guy. The announcers call him things like “Artist” and “Rock Star.” But those are empty nicknames. Who is this man? Why is he the way he is? Granted, they’re not exactly writing Shakespeare for him. His program with Jinder Mahal was a low point for WWE television all year, particularly when the racial stuff started coming into play.

Still, bad creative can’t take away the performer Nakamura is. The crowds are still into him. There’s even been a little bit of buzz about him winning the Royal Rumble Match this year. Hope isn’t lost for Nakamura’s WWE tenure yet. But the guy needs a hit. That one great match. That one great promo or vignette. Something.

9. Braun Strowman

There’s an argument to be made that Braun Strowman, not Roman Reigns, should be WWE’s poster boy. At the very least, he’s not hearing the kind of boos Roman is.

It’s fitting then, that Strowman’s best work this year was with Reigns. They had an uncanny amount of chemistry, especially when you consider Strowman’s experience level. He’s only been around a few years. But these matches with Reigns have been damn good. That image of Strowman heaving a chair at Roman’s head is as awesome today as it was when it happened.

More importantly, Braun Strowman represents a tremendous success on WWE’s part. They’ve created a genuine homegrown star. And unlike a John Cena or a Roman Reigns, the male fans aren’t threatened by him. So if WWE went with Braun, he could potentially have a relationship with the audience that we haven’t seen from a “chosen one” in a long time. A top babyface that the fans actually want to cheer for. Imagine that. This could be it. This could be the year the “Monster Among Men” stands at the top.

10. Chris Jericho

One of WWE’s most fascinating people just wrestled Kenny Omega at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year.

Chris Jericho’s choice to compete at Wrestle Kingdom 12 made a hell of a statement about NJPW’s foray into the United States, and its potential as an alternative to WWE. It also speaks volumes about who Chris Jericho is as a performer, and his resolve to continually challenge himself and grow. As if he wasn’t already the most versatile and multi-faceted performer in wrestling history.

Jericho also ended his latest WWE tenure on a high note. Coming into 2017, his rapport with Kevin Owens continued to be highlight of Raw every week. It culminated in a “Festival of Friendship,” which was arguably the most entertaining segment all year. Jericho and Owens weren’t nearly as compelling as enemies. But Owens got a Wrestlemania victory out of the deal, which is a nice feather in his cap. It’s a feather in Jericho’s cap too, as he got to help elevate yet another wrestler on their journey to WWE superstardom.

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Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well I’ll be damned…

Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestle Kingdom 12.

If you’re a pro wrestling geek, this is a huge match in just about every way possible. Granted, Jericho may only work one date for New Japan. A handful at most. But let’s pause for a moment and consider not just what this means artistically, but for NJPW’s presence in America.

Chris Jericho is obviously not under contract to WWE right now. But he’s a WWE superstar in every sense of the word. When he’s around, it’s a big deal. He’s been able to reinvent himself time and time again, making comeback after comeback and being consistently athletic and entertaining each time. This year, at age 46, he and Kevin Owens had one of the key storylines heading into Wrestlemania.

Perhaps most importantly, Jericho has wrestled exclusively for WWE since 1999. He’s a multi-faceted performer, and has a lot of irons in the fire. But when it comes to wrestling, for almost 20 years there’s only been one place to find Chris Jericho. He’s always said he only wanted to work for the top promotion in the world, and anywhere else would be a step down. Chris Jericho has been a WWE guy through and through. Until now.

Think about that. Think about what that says about Kenny Omega as a performer. Think about what that says about New Japan’s growing prominence in America. Think about what that says about NJPW’s potential as an alternative to WWE.

And if they can get Chris Jericho, who else can they get on more of a full-time basis?

Ponderings From Raw:

Kurt Angle appears on Miz TV at the top of the show, announces Miz vs. Braun Strowman in the main event. Miz had a great line here about Baron Corbin being “the bathroom break of Smackdown.” There’s a reason these guys haven’t been cutting promos on each other directly. In a war of words, Miz destroys Corbin every time. It’s not even close.

Jason Jordan def. Elias in a Guitar on a Pole Match. Angle later names Jordan to Team Raw at Survivor SeriesI don’t know why I expected this match to end with a guitar shot to the head. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trained to expect it after so many years watching guys like Jeff Jarrett smash guitars over people’s craniums. Maybe it’s because Elias got to hit Finn Balor in the head with it awhile back. Either way, this match ended on a whimper when Jordan smashed the damn guitar over Elias’ back. Either gimmick the guitar really well and go for it, or don’t book the damn match.

So Kurt Angle puts his “son” Jason Jordan on Team Raw. I like this a lot if it’s headed where I think it is…

Asuka won an enhancement match. I obviously don’t know how things sounded live. But on television this Manchester crowd sounded dead as a doornail. No one suffered the ill effects worse than Asuka did in this match. WWE are still trying to get her over with mainstream audiences, and this did not help. At all.

Samoa Joe runs through Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews, and issues an open challenge. Finn Balor accepts. The match goes to a double count-out. Kurt Angle later names both men to Team Raw. I hadn’t quite realized how much I missed Joe until I saw his promo here, and the subsequent match with Balor. Neither were great. But Joe’s intensity and believability are off the charts.

I really wish the announcers hadn’t mentioned the Kane thing from two weeks back. When Balor is stepping up and accepting a tough guy’s open challenge, it doesn’t help his cause to harken back to when got his ass handed to him in another open challenge. Frankly, I think we’d all love to forget that match ever happened…

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Alicia Fox and Nia Jax. Sasha is later picked for the Raw women’s team. It’s amazing how stupid WWE thinks we are sometimes. The announcers speculated about whether Sasha and Bayley could be the two women to fill the remaining spots on the Raw women’s team. Shut the hell up. We all know it’s going to be them. Dana Brooke is an afterthought, and they’re not going to pass either of them up for Mickie James.

The only person worthy of replacing either of them would be Paige. Come to think of it, this would have been a good opportunity to bring her back. It’s her home country, after all.

The crowd woke up a little for Bayley. It’s been awhile since she got a reaction like that. Far too long, actually.

Braun Strowman def. The Miz via disqualification after interference from Kane. Mrs. Primary Ignition happened to be sitting next to me during Miz’s entrance. She doesn’t know much about wrestling. But she watched him during his MTV days. She was confused by what he wore to the ring…

“His outfit looks like he’s wearing a dress. I have no problem with a man wearing a dress. It just seems so out of character for him.”

That’s Hollywood fashion for you.

Pete Dunne makes his Raw debut, gaining a win over Enzo Amore. UK Division wrestlers to appear on 205 Live. For months there’s been buzz about the WWE Network adding a show dedicated to the guys who wrestled in the UK Championship Tournament. For whatever reason, that hasn’t happened. But if you’ve got these guys signed to a deal, you may as well use them. I was happy to see Pete Dunne show up in the homegrown hero role, even though he’s obviously a natural heel. I’m not thrilled that these UK guys may end up associated with 205 Live, as that brand is so tainted. But you may as well do something on TV with them.

Until Dunne came out and the physicality started, almost everything about this segment seemed clumsy. Enzo’s promo went on so long the announcers were trolling him on-air. Then Dunne’s music hit. But instead of just having him come out, they had Angle show up and introduce him. So basic wrestling logic (If such a thing exists…) begs the question: Why not just hit Angle’s music, then do Dunne’s after his name is said? I’m assuming this was a mistake. If not, it’s very weird.

Cesaro and Sheamus def. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose to win the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles after the New Day cause a surprise distraction. This was a surprise. Not so much that they switched the titles, but that they had the New Day play a role in it. The reason seems obvious: A six-man tag at Survivor Series. I imagine they weren’t sure if Roman would be back in time, so they held off this angle just in case. I obviously don’t know that for a fact, but it makes sense.

Either way, if it happens that match could easily steal the show. It’s got a big match vibe not unlike the Shield vs. Wyatt Family stuff from a few years ago.

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Chris Jericho is Back?!? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Question: At what point does a midcard title mean as much, if not more, than a Heavyweight Title? Some would say that’s where we are with the WWE Title and the United States Title.

We always used to hear that kind of talk in the late ’90s, when Rob Van Dam held the ECW Television Title. His matches were outperforming the Heavyweight Title Matches on such a consistent basis that the perception of the title changed. While the ECW Championship was still the top title in theory, a large portion of the fanbase placed more value in the TV Title.

We’ve got a similar situation now with Jinder Mahal as the WWE Champion. In a way, it’s unfair to judge Mahal the way you would previous champions. He’s so inexperienced as a top guy, going from the undercard to the main event in a matter of weeks. Meanwhile, the guys competing for the US Title aren’t exactly slouches: Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, and Chris Jericho. They’re more experienced than him, more charismatic than him, and put on better matches than him.

But does that mean that while AJ and the others are elevating the US Championship, Jinder is dragging the WWE Championship down? The answer is: Sort of. It goes beyond Jinder himself. It’s about the story they’re telling, and the importance that should be placed on that WWE Championship.

Given how recently Jinder was an undercard guy, the WWE Title can easily seem like an undercard belt while he holds it. That’s especially the case when he’s not as good a worker as a lot of the other guys. The way you change that is by telling a good story. Essentially, that story is about Jinder and the Singh Brothers stealing the title. This undeserving, unqualified charlatan of a champion is holding it hostage until someone can overcome the odds and take it. WWE’s equivalent to the Ark of the Covenant has been stolen. We, as the audience, need to understand just how important that is. All is not right with the world, and our heroes are striving to fix it. This needs to be played up on a weekly basis. Not just by the announcers, but the script writers. An immense injustice has occurred, and continues to occur every time Jinder retains that title with the help of the Singh Brothers, and now the Great Khali. This way, Jinder is more than a stereotypical foreign menace. He becomes a true villain.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with elevating the United States Championship. For so many years it was mired in irrelevance. The more prestigious it is, the better off your product is. But let’s not lose sight of where our priorities should be. There’s a reason Jim Ross always called the WWE Title the “richest prize in the industry.” If they’ve allowed us to forget that’s the case, then something has gone very, very wrong.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Chris Jericho makes a surprise return to Smackdown. Shane McMahon announces a Triple Threat Match for the US Title: Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho. This one came way out of left field. Definitely an awesome shot in the arm for Smackdown. Especially after Battleground was received so negatively.

There was absolutely no buzz about Jericho coming back any time soon, so there’s not much word on how long we’ve got him. For now, I’m just happy he’s back. Even with just a little bit of time, he can do quite a lot.

Damn, I love when wrestling is good.

Shinsuke Nakamura def. Baron Corbin. The match from Battleground did not get good reviews at all. The most notable thing that came out of it was a gif of Nakamura doing an exaggerated eye roll. The DQ finish certainly didn’t help. At least they got that part right this time. Why couldn’t they have done that Sunday?

This wasn’t much better. But you knew this wasn’t going to be magic either way.

Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch def. Lana and Tamina. Really surprised Charlotte didn’t win the match at Battleground. Does this mean she’s not going to be on the Summerslam card? That’s really odd. She’s a marquee player. You’d think she’d have a place on a show like Summerslam.

Lana has a lot of haters over her perceived lack of wrestling skills. They don’t seem to realize they’re supposed to be hating her, and as such are playing right into her hands. That’s part of her character, you morons…

John Cena comes out to challenge Jinder Mahal to a WWE Championship Match at Summerslam. Daniel Bryan makes a match between Cena and Nakamura for next week, with the winner challenging Mahal at the pay per view. I happened to be watching the first half of this show with Mrs. Primary Ignition. As Jinder was speaking Punjabi, she says: “I feel like this is pretty racist.” I tell her that’s the idea,

Her reply: “That’s a little too redneck for me.” Man, some people just don’t get it.

Loved Cena’s attitude toward Mahal, totally brushing him off as an opponent. That’s obviously the way a lot of the fans feel about him too. The good news for the Cena haters is that probably means the champ is retaining at Summerslam. I doubt they’d let Cena crap on Vince McMahon’s new pet project if he wasn’t going to get the win in the end.

As for the Cena/Nakamura match next week, that’s a hell of a bombshell. They’ve got my attention, that’s for sure. Here’s hoping they pop a decent rating with a week’s build-up.

Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger def. Mike Kanellis and Aiden English. So Mike Kanellis loses at Battleground, then drops the fall again tonight. I wouldn’t be worried for him just yet. Not everybody gets a big undefeated streak. Given his whipped husband character, it might work for him in the short term.

A lot of fans have been quick to put Mike Kanellis’ gimmick into the “Wrestlecrap” category. Again, it’s too soon to judge. They just started. Give it some time. See how things play out…

The New Day are ambushed by the Usos. This was pretty quick and to the point. Considering how long some of the beat-downs go these days, that’s hardly a crime.

AJ Styles def. Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho to win the WWE United States Championship. Styles to defend against Owens in a rematch next week. Pretty good match. Rumor has it the finish to the Styles/Owens match at Battleground was changed with very little notice. This is pure speculation, but I imagine this was part of the reason why. Jericho’s return was a great twist in the story. I can’t say I’m dying to see Styles and Owens potentially work yet again at Summerslam. But there are certainly worse matches one could book…

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Chris Jericho’s Run Ends, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I remember catching an episode of Smackdown with a buddy of mine about 10 years ago. Not a regular viewer, he was confused about the number of title belts he was seeing. He said to me, “I thought only the best wrestlers were supposed to have belts.”

Man, WWE was frustrating in the mid-2000s. Actually, it’s still pretty frustrating. But at least now the belts mean something.

For so many years, it seemed like WWE was just moving belts from wrestler to wrestler just for the sake of moving the belts. Almost as if it were an obligation. Not so much with the top titles. But the Intercontinental and United States Titles most certainly suffered. Only in recent years has the company tried to breathe some life back into those two belts, and play up their importance.

While some may not want to hear this, it really all started with John Cena. His run with the US Title reinvigorated it, and at times made it as important as the WWE Championship. That seemingly created the blueprint for other uppercard wrestlers to carry it, and that momentum also translated to the IC Title. Fast-forward to this week, and we’ve got guys like Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, and Chris Jericho fighting for them in the main events of Raw and Smackdown. It’s such a far cry from the days when the belts would essentially just be props that certain wrestlers would hold. Now it feels like they actually represent something. Prestige. Honor. Glory. Status.

The WWE and Universal Heavyweight Championships should always be the crown jewels of their respective shows. If you win one of those, you’ve reached the top. But the Intercontinental and United States Titles should be no one’s consolation prize. They aren’t second-place trophies. They’re championships with rich legacies of their own. WWE should never again allow us to forget what an honor it is to hold them. Especially now that Brock Lesnar is the Universal Champion. If this week’s Raw is any indication, the Intercontinental Title may soon become a vital part of Raw every week. And that’s exactly how it should be.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Chris Jericho opens the show. AJ Styles and Kevin Owens each interrupt, before brawling with each other. Not much to this segment, really. It was essentially Jericho’s re-introduction to Smackdown. I’m curious if they’ll actually keep him on this show when he inevitably comes back.

Jericho’s US Title win at Payback was a big surprise. By no means did they have to give him the belt. But it was a nice win for him on his way out. Also, conspicuous by their absence on this show were Randy Orton and the “suspended” Baron Corbin. Assuming WWE knew they would be absent coming into this show, that would explain Jericho being used as a band-aid of sorts.

Jinder Mahal def. Sami Zayn. Decent match. Three weeks ago, there wouldn’t have been a doubt in anybody’s mind that Zayn would go over here. Not only did Jinder win, but he’s building momentum for a WWE Championship Match. What a world we live in.

I like this alliance between Jinder and the Singh Brothers (formerly the Bollywood Boyz). Has there ever been any sort of Indian faction in WWE? I’ve been a fan for over 20 years, and nothing comes to mind.

Tye Dillinger def. Aiden English. Nice intensity from Dillinger here, for a quick win. This was more or less a glorified enhancement match. But we can’t say they haven’t started him out strong.

Natalya and Carmella def. Naomi and Charlotte. Becky Lynch runs out to help the babyfaces afterward. They’ve essentially done a 180 with Charlotte these past two weeks, turning her babyface. That’s a little odd, as she’s turned out to be such a natural heel. My guess would be they wanted to even out the babyface/heel ratio amongst the women on Smackdown.

The obvious direction would now be a Six-Woman Tag Match at Backlash. I can’t say that thrills me. As Carmella pinned Naomi in this match, I’d almost prefer to see the two of them have a match for the championship.

Dolph Ziggler def. Sin Cara. Not a fan of Sin Cara’s new gear. Not that it matters much. He’s in the exact same role on Smackdown that he had on Raw. Then again, it only took one night for Jinder Mahal to become top contender for the WWE Championship…

Another vignette airs for Lana’s Smackdown debut. My wife and I were at another couple’s home this weekend, and they happened to have Total Divas on. It was the episode where Lana and Rusev got married in Bulgaria. I can honestly say Lana was the most obnoxious woman on that show. Considering how irritating I find the Bellas, that’s really saying something. Rumor has it she may be dropping her Russian accent, which is fine. It seems like she’s not going to be with Rusev anymore. So why risk further accent slippage on TV?

“The Fashion Files” airs, starring Breezango. Tyler Breeze and Fandango target the Usos and the Smackdown Tag Team Titles at BacklashThese two have deserved a more prominent role for some time now. This fashion police gimmick has essentially been comedy fodder. To their credit, they got a chuckle or two out of me in this segment. But they can be much more than that. I don’t expect them to get the belts at Backlash. But at least they’re in the title picture.

Kevin Owens def. Chris Jericho to win the WWE United States Title. Owens destroys Jericho after the match. I’m surprised we didn’t see AJ Styles again in the closing moments of the show. He and Owens mixed it up in the opening segment, after all.

Nice clean win for Owens, followed by an injury angle to send Jericho away for however long he’ll be gone. Perhaps the best testament to how good this run has been for Jericho is how sorry so many of us are to see him go. He’ll obviously be sorely missed.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

WWE Payback 2017 Predicitons, Plus: Nakamura and the “It” Factor

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

What exactly is the “it” factor? We hear wrestling insiders and experts talk about it all the time. This guy didn’t become a star because they were missing “it.” That guy connected because he had “it.”

So what the hell are they talking about?

“It” is something intangible and undefinable. Something that makes you unique. “It” draws people’s eyes to you when you walk into a room. It prompts them to put their money down to see you.

Shinsuke Nakamura has “it.” He just made his main roster debut a few weeks ago, but you only need to see him once to know he’s something special. HIs tremendous in-ring work aside, he simply has a presence about him. He’s an original. How often can you really say that about someone in pro wrestling? And perhaps more importantly, there’s a certain coolness about him. So little about the business is cool nowadays.

But Nakamura has a disadvantage that virtually no other major WWE babyface has had: His English. Listening to him speak, it’s quite obvious that English isn’t his forte yet. To be fair, he’s only been in America for about a year. Learning any language takes time, even when you don’t have the pressure of national television. But for all their efforts internationally, WWE has always been an American product through and through. For all his talents, Nakamura’s English could be his achilles heel. If there’s one thing standing between him and true WWE stardom, it’s that.

That’s why I hold my breath whenever they’ve put a mic in Nakamura’s hand, as they did this week on Smackdown. They’ve wisely kept his speaking time limited. But thus far, Nakamura’s done alright out there. Not great, but alright. At this stage, alright might just be good enough. But it won’t be that way forever. Nakamura’s star is rising fast, and he’s not going to speak perfect English any time soon. So when he’s is ready to take that next step, will WWE be ready to get behind him?

While Nakamura is undoubtedly an original, one person you might compare him to is Rob Van Dam. Rob Van Dam was a star in WWE. But he never became the superstar he could have been. This is largely because WWE, perhaps Vince McMahon in particular, couldn’t fully embrace his character. RVD wasn’t an aggressive promo guy. He was laid back and cool. But when the bell rang, the fans chanted his name because he did things no one else could do. He was different. Just like Nakamura is different. Neither man expresses himself in the traditional WWE style. But the fans respond to them nonetheless.

The question now is whether WWE can accept something it’s audience has always known: Different is good.

And now, let’s get to Payback…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Enzo and Cass vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

I’m curious to know how Enzo and Cass really feel about the Hardys being back. Had Matt and Jeff stayed with Ring of Honor, or gone else where, odds are Enzo and Cass would be the Raw Tag Team Champions right now. Instead, they’re working Gallows and Anderson again. On the pre-show, no less. I don’t expect their luck to improve here.

It seems natural that whoever wins here would get a Raw Tag Team Title Match. Assuming Matt and Jeff will finish their business with Cesaro and Sheamus at Payback, as heels Gallows and Anderson seem like they’d be next in line. Though part of me really hopes some kind of program with Finn Balor is in the works for them.

PREDICTION: Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries

What the hell? Put the belt on Aries. The guy’s hot right now. Why not capitalize? They can always put it right back on Neville if they want.

Some thought these two got slighted when they were put on the pre-show at Wrestlemania. In hindsight, that may have actually helped. These two were never going to be put in a position to do anything truly substantial on the main show. But Payback could be a different story. Here’s hoping…

PREDICTION: Austin Aries

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Hardy Boyz (c) vs Cesaro and Sheamus

Look at Matt’s face in that picture. How bad does this guy want to be Broken again?

He won’t get his wish at Payback, but he and Jeff will walk out with the tag titles. They just won them at Wrestlemania. To take them away now would almost be a waste. Sheamus and Cesaro have become more fun to watch in recent months. But the Hardys are as hot as they’ve ever been.

PREDICTION: The Hardy Boyz

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Bayley (c) vs. Alexa Bliss

The big picture here still needs to be about Bayley and Sasha. Hopefully for Summerslam. With that in mind, I don’t see Alexa winning here. I see Bayley taking it, then Alexa bringing in Nia Jax as back-up the night night on Raw. That could add a little extra garnish for a rematch at the next Raw pay per view.

That being said, I didn’t see Alexa winning the Smackdown Women’s Title last fall either. So anything’s possible.

PREDICTION: Bayley

Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe

Rollins just got one of the biggest wins of his career against Triple H. As the “Kingslayer,” it finally seems like he has a little bit of momentum as a babyface. It’d be a shame to have him walk right into a loss to Joe.

Joe has been handled almost perfectly since showing up on Raw. He’s been the dominant monster we all know, scoring big wins over Roman Reigns, Sami Zayn, and Chris Jericho. Rollins squeaking by with a victory won’t hurt him.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Chris Jericho

This is clearly a blow-off match. As such, I’m really hoping these two get the chance to give us an ending worthy of the whole “best friends” story they’ve told over the last several months. In a perfect world, they’d get to have a big brawl. But it seems like that’s what the House of Horrors Match is going to be.

This entire program has really been about building Kevin Owens. To the credit of all those involved, it’s worked tremendously. So it’s more than fitting that Owens go over here, and likely send Jericho packing for awhile. And so ends one of the best runs of Jericho’s entire career. I can’t help but wonder what our next “Gift of Jericho” will look like, and when we’ll get it…

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

HOUSE OF HORRORS MATCH:
Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton

We still have very little indication of what a House of Horrors Match is, which is fine. Part of the draw is finding out about the match itself. Based on Bray’s promos, it seems like it’ll take place in some kind of actual house or structure.

They should really let Bray have this one. It’ll allow him to regain some of the momentum he lost at Wrestlemania. As I’ve mentioned, a victory over the WWE Champion could catapult him into contention for the Universal Title. Hell, have Jinder Mahal run interference if you don’t want to beat the champ cleanly. But for cryin’ out loud, let Bray win.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

Just as Bray Wyatt needs to avenge his Wrestlemania loss to Randy Orton, Braun Strowman needs to avenge his Fastlane loss to Roman Reigns. Fastlane was seemingly about building Roman up for the Undertaker. This match should be about building Strowman up for Brock Lesnar. Not in the near future. But hopefully at a bigger show like Summerslam.

I don’t know that it matters whether Strowman beats Reigns cleanly or not. But if they want to give an excuse, the man was just beat to a pulp by Strowman two weeks ago. They said he had a separated shoulder and busted ribs, right? So they can play all that up, and have Roman fight through the pain only to fall short in the end. The important thing is Strowman wins.

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Will Bray Wyatt Challenge Brock Lesnar? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This Sunday at Payback, Bray Wyatt has a House of Horrors Match with Randy Orton. We still have no idea what a House of Horrors Match is. But regardless, this Sunday is their last hurrah. Orton will stay on Smackdown and do business with, of all people, Jinder Mahal. That obviously leaves Bray Wyatt on Raw. But what exactly do you do after a House of Horrors Match?

How about challenging Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title?

Yes, early signs pointed to a program between Bray and Finn Balor. But it has yet to really get going. And they could always come back to it later. Let’s remember, we have a really interesting opportunity with this House of Horrors Match. Randy Orton is the WWE Champion. A victory over Orton would naturally propel Wyatt back into Heavyweight Title contention. Naturally, that would lead him to Raw‘s top champion, Brock Lesnar.

WWE has wanted to do Brock vs. Bray for quite some time. They seemingly had it pencilled in for Wrestlemania XXXII last year, before plans changed. As this could potentially be Lesnar’s last year with the company (his contract expires next spring), why not pull the trigger just in case? Plus, it has the added appeal of being a match we haven’t seen before.

Should Bray win the Universal Title? Probably not. But there’s no shame in losing to Brock, is there? Almost everyone has done it for the past few years. More importantly, it would be a big match for Bray. There’s also the potential for really good storytelling there. It might be worth it just to heat Bray joust with Paul Heyman on the mic..

Ponderings From Raw:

Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel opens the show. The Miz and Maryse hijack the segment, turning it into Miz TV. Dean Ambrose then switches it to the Ambrose Asylum. Ambrose hits Miz with Dirty Deeds, Maryse gets added to the List of Jericho. This came off like filler. That sucks, considering this is probably Jericho’s last Raw for awhile. Still, at least the crowd was hot for Jericho, the List, and all that stuff.

Matt Hardy def. Sheamus. Reportedly, WWE is working on settling with Anthem and Impact Wrestling and obtaining the rights to the Broken characters. The sooner they can do that, the better.

I expected this match to happen, but didn’t expect this finish. After Jeff beat Cesaro last week, I imagined Sheamus would get the win, and the Tag Title Match at Payback would be the rubber match. Looks like that’s not the story. I’m guessing the sportsmanship will come to an end on Sunday…

Austin Aries and Jack Gallagher def. Neville and TJ Perkins. This match wasn’t a classic. But it was quick enough that they were able to inject it with a certain energy that the Cruiserweight Division has desperately needed since it’s come to Raw. If keeping these matches shorter has that effect, I say we make ’em shorter. Anything to distinguish the cruiserweights from everyone else on this show.

Kalisto def. Braun Strowman in a Dumpster Match. Strowman responds by putting Kalisto in the dumpster and pushing it off the Raw stage. So Strowman is standing on the apron, Kalisto dropkicks his knees, and Strowman goes feet-first into the dumpster. As such, Kalisto wins. Somehow, I thought you had to shut the dumpster lid win the match. I guess I got it confused with a Casket Match.

To their credit, they promoted this going into the show. It ended up being pretty good. It’s probably the most notable thing Kalisto has done in his WWE career thus far. He got to beat Strowman, but the giant leaves the proceedings unharmed. Incidentally, did Kalisto get new entrance music?

The moment Strowman got him in that dumpster, I flashed back to that segment from 1998 when the New Age Outlaws put Cactus Jack and Terry Funk in a dumpster and pushed it off the stage. Mind you, the stage was much higher then. Kalisto took a relatively short drop by comparison. But it was a fine moment to recreate as they continue to build Braun Strowman.

Those “We want Roman!/Roman Sucks!” chants were probably exactly what WWE wanted to hear during this match.

The real loser in all of this? Kurt Angle. He was psyching up Kalisto before the match (the masked man’s mic work hasn’t improved much). But when the match was over, and he was getting shoved off the stage, Angle was nowhere to be found. Jamie Knoble, Finlay, and a bunch of refs were out there. Why not Angle? Were they afraid he’d pull focus?

Dana Brooke def. Alicia Fox. I’m not rooting against Dana Brooke. I’m really not. But her take on the Michinoku Driver was pretty ugly. She’s trying, bless her heart…

Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Big Cass def. Samoa Joe, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. If I”m not mistaken, this is the first time since Summerslam that they’ve referenced Balor’s previous association with Gallows and Anderson. That’s been a long time coming. Let’s finally dive into this Bullet Club stuff…

They’re obviously still trying to be cautious with Rollins’ knee and Balor’s concussion. But they both looked good out there this week.

After an in-ring confrontation with Bayley, Alexa Bliss retreats from a match with Sasha Banks. Alexa Bliss might be the one person that actually benefits from these Raw promo segments going a little bit longer. I wouldn’t exactly call her soft-spoken. But her promo style is a little bit different. For the time being, the added time for her message to sink in is helpful.

There continues to be some heat on this Sasha Banks/Alexa Bliss pairing. People want to see them wrestle. And as we saw here, they’re pretty good together.

Apollo Crews def. Curt  Hawkins. Titus O’Neil comes out to “celebrate” with Crews after the win. I’m not sure how beneficial this association with Titus will be for Apollo. But at least it’s something. They did all of nothing with him on Smackdown.

Bray Wyatt comes to the Miz’s aid against Chris Jericho and Dean Ambrose. Bray’s initial target in this match was Ambrose. We saw those two work together pretty extensively in 2014. I can’t say I’m itching for them to work together again. But as a TV program, it might work. As I said above, I’m more interested in Bray setting his sights a little higher…

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Braun Strowman Breaks the Ring! Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Wrestling’s newest dominant monster, Braun Strowman, was all over Raw on Monday. After last week, it’s not hard to see why. His big attack on Roman Reigns was one of the best angles they’ve done in a long time. For certain Reigns fans it was downright horrifying. But for some of us it seemed downright cathartic. WWE seems to know that, and are actually playing into it. They seem to be using the fans’ hatred of Reigns, the so-called babyface, to get them to cheer Strowman, the supposed heel. By traditional wrestling logic, it’s about as backwards as you can get. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to watch Strowman beat on people.

In the broad sense, there isn’t much about Strowman that makes him villainous. He’s a big, tough bastard who wants to fight everyone. In the context of a wrestling show that’s a pretty admirable quality. Yes, he absolutely destroyed Roman Reigns. But think about the stuff we used to see Steve Austin do to Vince McMahon and a lot of the other heels. One of the more famous moments in Raw history involves Austin abducting McMahon and holding him hostage with what we think is a gun (later revealed to be a toy). He only let him go after McMahon wet his pants in the middle of the ring.

It’s amazing what you can get away with doing to someone the fans hate. We’re being reminded of that with now with Strowman.

Ponderings From Raw:

After Kurt Angle tells Strowman he has a match with Roman Reigns at Payback, Strowman attacks numerous wrestlers in the locker room. The best of these backstage segments involved Strowman beating up Kalisto and then dropping him a dumpster. This poor guy has become WWE’s resident whipping boy. On Smackdown it was basically his job to get beat up by Dolph Ziggler. Now in his first week on Raw, he’s getting thrown in the trash by Strowman. He desperately needs to hide on 205 Live for awhile.

Booker T steps in for David Otunga at the announce table. Otunga’s start on Raw has been delayed, as he’s off shooting a movie. Can’t we just make Booker the full-time announcer? He’s got more personality than Otunga ever will, and he’s got decades of experience to draw from. He’s already doing the pre-shows, isn’t he? Why not just shift him on to the main broadcast?

Samoa Joe vs. Chris Jericho via submission. Rollins was on commentary for this match. So often, the babyfaces are so vanilla when they sit at the announce desk. I usually find myself wishing they’d be a little more charismatic, and make us actually like hearing them. Instead, this felt like the usual fluff. Nice post-match promo by Joe, though.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Enzo and Cass. No interest in this one from me. We’ve seen these teams wrestle a thousand times. I zipped right through it.

Dean Ambrose appears on Miz TV. It feels like we’re beating a dead horse here. Miz and Ambrose just feuded on Smackdown a few months ago. They did fine, but it’s not like we’re dying to see them go again.

They made a point to have Miz call Ambrose lazy and complacent in this segment. This is at least the second time they’ve done that since Steve Austin called him out last year for allegedly resting on his laurels. Why go there again? Can’t they come up with anything better for Miz to say? Hell, I’d have brought up his marriage to Renee Young before I went this route. They talked about it on their web site. Why not here?

TJ Perkins def. Jack Gallagher. Now that he’s a heel, Perkins needs a new entrance. That video game stuff is strictly babyface material. He seems to be having fun being a bad guy, though. It’s funny how much heat he got just from dabbing.

Alexa Bliss def. Sasha Banks, Mickie James, and Nia Jax to become the top contender for the Raw Women’s Title at Payback. Sasha did another one of her dives through the ropes during this match. I always hold my breath when she does that. It looked like she caught her leg on the rope, and went back-first into Mickie and Nia.

Saw a decent amount of buzz about Sasha vs. Alexa during this match. Not sure what would be so awesome about that program in particular. But I’m down for it.

Last week, Nia Jax caught heat online for dropping Charlotte Flair on her head during their match. Thus, she’s going to be scrutinized even more. To an extent it’s unfair to her, as she was thrust into the spotlight despite her inexperience. What’s she supposed to do? Turn down a prominent spot on Raw? But on the other hand, she’s in a spot that so many more seasoned wrestlers would kill for. So she’s got to take her lumps when she makes a mistake like that.

Finn Balor accepts an open challenge from Curt Hawkins, wins a quick match. Happy to see Balor in the ring this week. Rumors said he was concussed during his match with Jinder Mahal last week. Apparently he was healthy enough to do a short match this week, which is good news. The last thing he needed was another serious injury.

Dash Wilder sustains a broken jaw at NXT live event, will be out of action until summer. Terrible break for the Revival. Between Wilder, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Kofi Kingston’s ankle surgery, the injury bug is definitely going around.

A promo package airs featuring Bray Wyatt talking about the House of Horrors Match at Payback. This was the best parts of the entire show. Great horror imagery, combined with a promo without much of Bray’s trademark laughter. That’s a winning formula. Now if only they’d tell us what a House of  Horrors Match is.

Incidentally, Michael Cole called Payback a “Raw exclusive pay per view.” But it’s got matches for the WWE Title and the United States Title, both of which are on Smackdown. It’s an odd line-up, isn’t it?

Jeff Hardy def. Cesaro. Definitely the wrestling highlight of the show. Any time they put Cesaro in a prominent TV match, he delivers. Now if only Vince McMahon saw the same kind of star power in him that we all do.

Prior to the match, the Hardys did a backstage interview where Matt slipped a bit of his “Broken” accent in there. He’s clearly chomping at the bit to do that character on WWE TV. I can’t say I blame him.

Braun Strowman and the Big Show go to a No-Contest after they break the ring with a Superplex. Cole, Booker, and Corey Graves didn’t sell the ring break nearly enough. I understand we’ve seen this spot with Big Show before. But c’mon, guys! The damn ring imploded!

I continue to have mixed feelings about Braun Strowman leaving his feet during matches. In this match we saw him do dropkicks, kip-ups, and even Arm Drags. But if he’s going to do it, better he do it in a match with another giant. It obviously sets him apart quite a bit.

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#FireJBL? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m going to tread lightly as I discuss the alleged situation between JBL and Mauro Ranallo. We’ve heard so little about this matter from either of them that it’s almost entirely rumor and speculation. But where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

For the unaware, Mauro Ranallo has been off Smackdown for several weeks. He’s reportedly been battling symptoms of bipolar disorder, which he’s been very open about in the past. The belief is that this episode came about due to bullying by his broadcast partner John Layfield, a.k.a. JBL. What they’ve said to each other in private is anyone’s guess. But on a recent edition of Bring it to the Table on the WWE Network, Layfield chastised Ranallo for tweeting about wining the Wrestling Observer Newsletter‘s Announcer of the Year Award two years in a row. Ranallo would later cryptically tweet, “Jealousy is a hell of a drug.”

Then Ranallo missed that first Smackdown a few weeks ago, allegedly due to bad weather. Layfield would tweet: “I made the show, everyone made the show, everyone. Maybe he shouldn’t have bashed me if he wasn’t going to show up.” He’d later delete the tweet. But Ranallo hasn’t been seen on WWE TV since, and he may not be back. While WWE released a statement confirming Ranallo is under contract until August of this year, he’s since removed mentions of WWE from his social media profiles. Ironically, this story would later be extensively reported on in the Observer. 

Adding to the noise is former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts, whose book came out this week. He writes about JBL bullying people backstage, and possibly stealing his passport. Such stories are nothing new. Numerous wrestlers have talked about Layfield’s backstage antics over the years. The Miz even mentioned such things in a promo on Raw several years ago. And hell, we all saw him beat the Blue Meanie to a pulp on live television at ECW One Night Stand in 2005.

The online backlash against Layfield has been extensive. There’s been talk about the culture backstage in WWE, and the inherent hypocrisy of the company’s association with the Be A S.T.A.R. campaign. The operative hashtag has been #FireJBL.

But firing JBL doesn’t fix the problem, does it?

Clearly this sort of behavior is an issue with this guy, and it’s all happened under the WWE umbrella. Ergo, WWE is culpable. So if what we’re hearing about this Mauro Ranallo situation is true, WWE needs to send JBL to sensitivity training of some kind. If he opts not to go, then he should be fired.

The ironic thing about all of this is that JBL’s apparent bullying tendencies are part of what made him such a great villain on screen. Frankly, this is the kind of heat WWE should be going for with their storylines. But let’s leave that to the world of fiction. In real life, bullies need to be put in their place.

Ponderings From Raw:

The Miz and Maryse arrive on Raw, along with Dean Ambrose. I’ll give ’em credit. I didn’t expect this. Ambrose coming to Raw is significant in that it puts him on the same show with Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, potentially reuniting the Shield. But for now, it gives Raw one of the company’s top good guys. Though granted, would a real top good guy be relegated to the Wrestlemania pre-show?

I don’t think this is a good move for Miz and Maryse. On Smackdown, Miz was starting to sniff WWE Title contention again. But he’s in a larger pond now. What would you say the odds are of him winning the Universal Title now that Brock Lesnar is champion?

With all this talk about engagement rings, did anyone else notice the ring on Ambrose’s left hand? He was wearing it when he wrestled, too.

The Revival def. The New Day. Seeing this victory gives me the impression that not only are the New Day going to Raw, but Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson are likely headed to Smackdown. The Revival and the Club have a similar vibe. You don’t need both teams on the same show.

The Big Show punches out new Raw arrival Curt Hawkins. I didn’t like this format at all. The drafts from Smackdown just come out? Where’s the drama? Where’s the anticipation? Big missed opportunity.

Neville tears down TJ Perkins backstage. Later, after a distraction from Neville, Perkins pins Austin Aries. Perkins attacks Aries after the match. Thank God. Perkins is extremely talented, but few wrestlers have needed a heel turn as much as him in recent months. This will be great for him,

Kurt Angle tells Seth Rollins he’s staying on Raw, despite what happened to Commissioner Stephanie McMahon at WrestlemaniaSamoa Joe attacks Rollins. How bad did you want to see Angle suplex Joe off of Rollins?

Great to see the crowd chanting for Seth here, as opposed to CM Punk. I guess that’s what getting Steph put through a table will do for you.

Nia Jax def. Charlotte Flair. Charlotte was seemingly positioned as the underdog babyface here. As was the case with the New Day, this loss seemingly confirms she’s on her way to Smackdown.

This was a big win for Nia. But at the same time, it didn’t necessarily do her any good to be in the ring with someone as good as Charlotte. The difference in their skill set became very apparent.

Finn Balor def. Jinder Mahal. Bray Wyatt announces he’s coming to RawThis will be a good move for Bray, if for no other reason than it’ll get him away from Randy Orton. Now the question is, will Balor end up jumping to Smackdown? If he stays where he is, these two would seemingly compliment each other well.

Apollo Crews, Kalisto, Heath Slater, Rhyno, and David Otunga coming to Raw. Byron Saxton moving to SmackdownI guess these guys all fall into the miscellaneous column. Most notable here is the drafting of Kalisto, who will obviously be a great get for the Cruiserweight Division.

Not a fan of the announcer switch at all. That news actually broke after Raw. People have been pretty tough on Saxton. But I very much prefer him to Otunga, who adds absolutely nothing to Smackdown. This seems like it was done just for the sake of moving people.

Sami Zayn def. The Miz. Nice win for Sami. They’ve been teasing him going to Smackdown for months. I expect this will be his last time on Raw for quite awhile.

Now that Miz and Daniel Bryan aren’t on the same show anymore, should Miz still be using his kicks? That doesn’t really make sense.

Braun Strowman destroys Roman Reigns backstage, tipping over an ambulance with his bare hands in the process. This was a great angle. It may as well have turned Strowman babyface. How do they expect him to hear anything but cheers now? He decimated the man who retired the Undertaker. Very well done, and an excellent way to re-emphasis Strowman.

“The Drifter” Elias Samson appears on stage during an eight-man tag. I’m not at all familiar with Samson’s work in NXT, though the buzz I’ve heard about the character hasn’t been stellar. Curious to see what he’s about.

Alexa Bliss and Mickie James arrive from Smackdown. Nia Jax lays out the babyfaces. Well, here we go. Your new layout for the Raw Women’s Division. Looks like we’ve got an alliance between Alexa and Nia Jax. I can dig that. It’s a much better role for Nia.

Our long form story here continues to be about Bayley and Sasha. It’s looking like they may go the babyface route with Sasha before she eventually turns. Again, I can dig that.

Dean Ambrose def. Kevin Owens. Chris Jericho hits Owens with a Codebreaker after the match. Historically speaking, when they move a champion from one show to the other, the counterpart championship also has to move. This would seemingly indicate that Kevin Owens is on his way to Smackdown. That’s a surprise, if for no other reason than Sami Zayn seems to be on his way over there. One of the biggest upsides to moving Zayn to Smackdown was to get him away from Owens. Now it looks like they may be drafted together yet again. That’s lame.

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